Bills could make responding to OSHA charges easier for small businesses

Laws that allow OSHA to weigh large and small corporations equally may be eliminated as early as this year due to four bills the House of Representatives approved July 13.

Rep. Charles Norwood, R-Ga., along with several other congressmen, introduced the bills in February. The legislation, which the Senate is expected to approve before next year, extend the deadline for a small business to respond to OSHA charges, ensure rights to a speedy trial, restore the right to appeal to an independent court, and allow recovery of attorneys’ fees if a case against an OSHA citation is successful.

John Stone, a spokesman for Norwood’s office, said whether the bills pass the Senate together or individually, they are what small businesses need in order to be treated fairly by OSHA. The bills are particularly important, he said, because many small business owners can’t afford to pay an attorney to defend them against OSHA citations.

“Charlie (Norwood) was a private contract dentist before he was a congressman, and he wanted to create a change in the culture of OSHA, to the point where they will improve the workplace safety and see how they can help small business owners instead of harass them,” Stone said.

“Big corporations have safety compliance officers and lawyers on staff,” he continued. “When you’re a private dentist … it’s costing you thousands for an attorney that you wouldn’t be reimbursed for.”

Wade Newton, spokesman for the Associated Builders and Contractors, said unfair targeting by OSHA has not been an issue, but having the legislation in place would help prevent mistreatment in the future.

“Small businesses just don’t have the resources,” Newton said. “It’s good that contractors will have the availability to speedily respond to OSHA claims (if the bills become law).”

Stone said another huge concern was a small business owner’s right to a speedy trial, as well as a fear to ask OSHA for help in order to comply with its rules. “Businesses are scared OSHA will come and look at problems and then slap a large fine on the business,” he said. “A lot of safety precautions that should be made are not made because of fear of these fines.”

Elaine Fraser, program information specialist for OSHA, said the agency could not comment on pending legislation.